Birthday dinner

Our dear friend celebrated a 50th birthday so I wanted to cook her a special dinner.  I was out of town for work all week last week and got home late Friday evening.  We had a hectic weekend so I had to make it manageable.  Here is what I did:

First course – tuna carpaccio and tuna tartar from The Inn at Little Washington Cookbook. I have admired the picture of this in the cookbook many times and decided to go for it – also because it is almost all do-ahead.  I bought a hunk of fresh tuna (if you ask nicely they will usually cut a fresh piece from a loin for you.)  You cut thin slices of tuna and then pound it between pieces of wax paper until it is almost translucent.  (I got better with practice and the bright side is that any mess ups can go into the tartar.)

In this case the tartar is finely diced tuna that is tossed at the last minute with a marinade of 2 TB soy sauce, 1/4 cup rice vinegar and 2 tsp sesame oil. You put a piece of carpaccio on the plate, drizzle with wasabi mayonnaise and then top with a mound of the tartar.  It was outstanding – not a bit leftover.

For the main course, we grilled strip steaks with one of our favorite marinades:

Chipotle marinade 

  • 2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 TB tomato juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce (low sodium soy sauce)
  • 2 TB sherry vinegar
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp oreganoe bout
  • salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a blender.

Since the dressing has some kick to it, you don’t need to smother your meat with it.  (This is also excellent with chicken and pork.)  I put some in the bottom of a glass baking dish, put the steaks on top and then put about 1 TB of marinade on each steak.  Since it was a celebration we decided to splurge on the steaks.  We bought the steaks from John Brown’s Butcher shop.  They were out of this world!  Keith said they were easier to grill since they were almost exactly the same size.  The steaks weren’t huge but there was no waste – every bite was amazing.  Definitely a do-over for a special occasion.

The salad was mache topped with a sherry/shallot vinaigrette that I shook up in a jar and warm goat cheese.  I sliced the goat cheese into rounds, dipped each round in olive oil and then a mixture of panko and chopped pistachios and heated them in a 400 degree oven for 3 minutes.  (You want the cheese to be soft but not oozing.)

My cheat was to use the Little Potato company roasted potatoes.  I decided that I couldn’t do any better myself and it saved me some time.  I used the garlic/herb.

Dessert was Ina’s Mocha Icebox cake.  It is so amazing although I use Otterbein’s chocolate chip cookies instead of Tate’s.  (We did a blind taste test a few years ago and we preferred Otterbein’s.

Sorry that I was having so much fun I didn’t take any pictures!

 

Mother’s Day dinner

We’re having my family over tonight for Mother’s Day dinner.  My brother-in-law is providing the appetizers which means they will be delicious and we may be too full to eat dinner!  After much discussion we decided to make the Seafood Cobb salad that I created a few weeks ago.  They looked pretty, weren’t hard to fix and can be customized if someone wants something a little different.  Here is how I made it a few weeks ago:

Seafood Cobb Salad

  • salad greens of your choice (I used mache)
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 3 TB good olive oil
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 10 large shrimp, steamed and peeled
  • 2 hardboiled eggs, chopped
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • 4 pieces bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled
  • 1 oz crumbled blue cheese

Wash and dry salad greens.  Combine shallot, olive oil, white vinegar, lemon juice and Dijon mustard in a small jar and shake well.  Portion salad greens onto plates and top with dressing.  Top with shrimp, egg, avocado, tomato, bacon and blue cheese.  I believe that a traditional Cobb salad has everything lined up in neat rows – I mixed it all together when I ate it but it looks pretty on the plate as is.  Feel free to experiment and substitute different items based on what you like.

For dessert, I made the Mocha Icebox cake yesterday so it is all done and we can relax:

Mocha Icebox cake

We have a local bakery – Otterbein’s that makes the best chocolate chip cookies ever.  If you can’t get Otterbein’s use top quality chocolate chip cookies.  (This is a perfect dessert for people who don’t like to bake because the bakery did the baking part for you.)

  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 12 oz mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Kahlua
  • 2 TB unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 24 oz Otterbein’s chocolate chip cookies.

Combine all ingredients except cookies in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Mix at high speed until it forms firm peaks.

In an 8 inch springform pan, make a layer of chocolate chip cookies – try to cover the space as completely as possible.  Spread with a layer of the flavored whipped cream.  Continue layering cookies and cream making a total of 5 layers of each.  Top layer will be cream. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.

Before unmolding, run a knife around the outside of the cake and then remove the sides of the springform pan.  Cut into slices and serve to very happy guests.  This is a rich dessert so the pieces don’t need to be big.

Feast with friends

Last night we hosted a dinner party for people we didn’t know.  It may sound odd but it is actually a wonderful program at our daughter’s school.  They call it Feast with Friends and you sign up to either host or attend a dinner party with other parents from different grades.  As soon as I heard about it I thought it sounded like fun so we volunteered to host.

When you cook for friends or family you know about their food preferences; when you are cooking for people you have never met it is a little bit different.  I did email my guests in advance to see if anyone had any food allergies – I certainly didn’t want to make anyone sick!  Here is the menu I came up with

  • Asparagus spears wrapped in prosciutto
  • Mushroom and shrimp tarts
  • Tenderloin with red wine butter sauce
  • Rosemary popovers
  • Arugula salad
  • Mocha Icebox cake

All of these are things I’ve made before (which was helpful since I played in a paddle tennis tournament most of the day yesterday) and there wasn’t a lot of last minute attention needed so we could spend time getting to know our guests.  Here are the individual recipes:

Asparagus spears wrapped in proscuitto

This is easy to fix, is pretty healthy and looks nice on a platter.  I blanched the asparagus in the morning so it would be ready to go.

  • 3/4 lb asparagus spears, rough ends broken off
  • small amount of plain cream cheese
  • 1/2 lb very thinly sliced prosciutto

Blanch asparagus by cooking in boiling water for 2 minutes.  Remove to a colander and rinse with cold water to stop cooking.  Wrap in paper towels and refrigerate.  Spread each spear with a small amount of cream cheese and wrap tightly with prosciutto.

Mushroom and shrimp tarts

We made these for the New Year’s Eve tapas feast and I made a note at the time that the filling would be great in purchased shells.  I buy boxes of the little pastry shells when I have parties – I often fill them with salmon tartar.  The filling doesn’t take long to make – I did that when I got home from my tournament.  I waited until our guests had arrived to fill and cook the shells – they will get soggy if you let them sit.

  • 1/4 lb chopped mushrooms
  • 1 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 TB butter
  • 1/4 cup champagne (perfect since we’ll want to have some left for the toast at midnight)
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 5 cooked jumbo shrimp, peeled and chopped
  • 2 oz. grated cheddar cheese
Saute mushrooms and garlic in butter over low heat for 15 minutes.  Add wine and bring to a boil.  Cook until almost dry.  Add cream and shrimp and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat.  Fill shells with mixture and top with grated cheese.  Cook in oven at 375 for 2 – 3 minutes or until cheese is melted and serve.

Roasted beef tenderloin with red wine sauce

This is a nice thing to serve for company unless you are entertaining vegetarians.  Most people like tenderloin and it doesn’t need to be served hot.  My husband cooked it about 2 hours before everyone arrived and had it carved and set up on a platter so everyone could serve themselves.  We like ours rare and everyone seemed happy with it.  The sauce is a little tricky – I thought I got it a little bit burned last night but my husband thought it was still good.

  • Beef tenderloin (about 1 lb per person is generous and allows leftovers)
  • vegetable oil
  • salt and pepper

If using whole tenderloin, cut in half.  Preheat oven to 475.  Using a heavy roasting pan with vegetable oil, start the beef on top of the stove over 2 burners.  Sear about 2 minutes a side so beef is browned on all sides and then cook in oven for about 20 minutes or until internal temperature is 125 for medium rare.  This can be prepared ahead of time.

Red wine sauce

  • 1 cup red wine (Merlot or Cabernet)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup butter, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 TB minced chives
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon

Combine wine, bay leaves, salt and pepper and boil over high heat.  When reduced to about 2 TB, remove from heat, remove bay leaves and whisk in butter.  Whisk continuously to keep from separating.  Add in chives and tarragon.  Watch closely – this can burn quickly.  I’ve tried to make ahead of time but find it’s easier to make at the last minute to reduce the risk of separating.  If it does separate, try adding a small amount of cold water.

Rosemary popovers

We made these on Christmas Eve and they were so good, we couldn’t wait to make them again.  They need a little bit of last minute attention but they aren’t hard.  They are beautiful and so delicious!

  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups milk
  • 5 TB melted butter
  • 4 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, minced

Preheat oven to 350.  Combine flour, salt, eggs, milk and 4 TB of butter in a blender for about 2 minutes.  Brush popover tins with remaining butter and heat in oven about 5 minutes.  Fill tins half full with batter and sprinkle each popover top with rosemary.  Bake 45 minutes or until golden and crisp.

Arugula Salad

I love the peppery taste of arugula and thought it would go well with the tenderloin.  I had the dressing in the jar

  • Arugula
  • 5 TB olive oil
  • 2 TB lemon juice
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • shaved Parmesan cheese

Rinse and dry arugula.  In a jar, toss remaining olive oil and lemon juice, mustard and shallot.  Pour dressing over arugula and top with Parmesan cheese.

Mocha Icebox cake

This dessert is perfect because you have to make it the night before and it is so delicious.  We have a local bakery – Otterbein’s that makes the best chocolate chip cookies ever.  If you can’t get Otterbein’s use top quality chocolate chip cookies.  (This is a perfect dessert for people who don’t like to bake because the bakery did the baking part for you.)

  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 12 oz mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Kahlua
  • 2 TB unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 24 oz Otterbein’s chocolate chip cookies.

Combine all ingredients except cookies in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Mix at high speed until it forms firm peaks.

In an 8 inch springform pan, make a layer of chocolate chip cookies – try to cover the space as completely as possible.  Spread with a layer of the flavored whipped cream.  Continue layering cookies and cream making a total of 5 layers of each.  Top layer will be cream. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.

Before unmolding, run a knife around the outside of the cake and then remove the sides of the springform pan.  Cut into slices and serve to very happy guests.  This is a rich dessert so the pieces don’t need to be big.

Our guests were delightful, everyone seemed to like everything and it was a really nice evening.  I’ll volunteer to host again next year!